While playing WoW recently, a friend of mine suggested we all type in "/played" to see how many hours of game time we had logged. To my surprise, I was at 12 days, 8 hours and 17 minutes. That's 296 hours of time. My friend (a stay-at-home dad) then pointed out that he was at 28 days. That's 672 hours of time. Let's say for the sake of argument that a work week is 40 hours long. My friend has spent almost 17 work weeks in WoW (7 and a half for me) since November.
There are a few possible reactions to this. Let me play out two extremes:
1) Fantastic. I wish I could play that much! He must have a great time, uber gear and a bunch of friends.
or 2) Get a life. This is the end of civilization as we know it as virtual communities displace real-world ones. This is Robert Putnam's hypothesis. Expect a radical decline in the quality of existing relationships, more divorces, declining work productivity and, say others, potential addiction.
Now I've spent some time on this issue as part of my dissertation (beware, 11MB file), so I argue that the answer lies somewhere in between and that it varies by person and by game. I have pretty charts and graphs showing, among other things, that a lot of MMRPG play can cause a reduction in real-world travel to visit friends and a slight decrease in hours worked, but has no impact on family relationships. And the fact that many people play 20+ hours a week is now well understood thanks to Nick and others.
Nevertheless, my reaction was still "Holy shnikies! 17 weeks?!" What does all that time do to someone's life? I have seen some commentary on the social implications of online gaming here, but when a game sells 600k copies that fast are we now talking about a more mainstream phenomenon? Will journalists start picking up on anecdotes?